It’s as if terrorism began with Osama bin Laden and that dreadful attack on the Twin Towers at once unified us with the victims in their sadness and absolved the United States of all its sins.
It’s understandable that Americans feel relief at the killing of bin Laden. There is a legitimate debate to be had on how his assassination was carried out, on his burial at sea and on the release of photographic evidence of his demise. But there is a bigger picture that we now rarely see: the world before 9-11. That bigger picture is disturbing, pointing, as it must, to the endless hypocrisy of US administrations over the decades. Here are a few snapshots triggered by the bin Laden debate and by US action in Libya.
Many commentators have asked how Pakistan dared to knowingly protect Osama bin Laden in the comfortable and safe green valleys of Abbotabad below the pine clad Murree Hills, north of Islamabad? Pakistan dared for the same supremely cynical reason the United States offers safe haven and succour to mass murderers and terrorists to this day.
Luis Posada Carriles, the man Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called "the bin Laden of the Americas;" is in happy retirement in Miami. This Cuban/Venezuelan former CIA agent has admitted to bombings in Cuba and Panama and to the 1976 downing a Cuban airliner killing all 73 passengers, as well involvement in Iran Contra and the Bay of Pigs invasion. He’s an all-rounder and has been convicted in absentia so many times he must have broken some sort of record. But still, the US won’t give him up. Bambi — that’s apparently his nickname — literally knows where the bodies are buried and has threatened to tell all about US involvement, Wikileaks style, should he be placed before a court.
I think the Cubans should go in and snatch him. The precedent has been set.
Thanks to the real bin Laden the US has become a fortress. No smarty underpants or shoe bombers can penetrate the homeland. How different it was in the 1970s? In those more innocent times the US facilitated the entry of respectable bombers, gave them visas, plea bargains and time in witness protection until all their troubles blew over.
In 1976, Chile’s former ambassador to the US Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffitt were assassinated, blown up by a car bomb on their way to work in Washington DC. As well as serving as ambassador, Letelier had been foreign minister in the elected leftist government of Salvador Allende. After General Augusto Pinochet’s American backed coup in 1973, Letelier was one of the first to be arrested. He endured the usual torture and privation but was freed as long as he left the country. In the US and Europe he became a stellar critic of Pinochet’s military junta, succeeding in blocking millions in investment flowing to his country. Obviously he had to go.
The Chilean secret police, DINA sent a squad to kill him.
Michael Townley, a DINA operative who had once worked for the CIA, and Chilean Armando Larios were implicated in the murder. How did they get into the States? They were issued visas by the US ambassador to Paraguay. After discussions with "the bin Laden of the Americas", Townley contracted some anti-Castro Cubans to do the hit. To cut a long story short, in 1978 Townley was extradited to the US; he confessed to one count of conspiracy to murder, was convicted, gave evidence against the Cubans — and was released into witness protection.
At a government level, according to documents released over the last decade, the CIA knew about the assassination plans at least two months before Letelier was killed but let it happen anyway.
Last year researchers discovered that a contemporaneous US communiqué, which was to have warned the Chilean dictatorship against assassinations, was never delivered, blocked by then secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
On 8 June 1976, more than three months before the assassination, Kissinger told Pinochet, "in the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here." He added, "I think that the previous government was headed toward communism. We wish your government well."
Kissinger went on to dismiss American human rights campaigns against Chile’s government as "domestic problems". He also assured Pinochet that he opposed sanctions banning arms sales such as those proposed by senator Edward Kennedy. At that same meeting, Pinochet raised his concerns about Letelier directly: "Letelier has access to the Congress. We know they are giving false information. We are worried about our image".
Kissinger’s response was not recorded — but you are what you do.
Could that duplicity happen today? With the help of Wikileaks or a similar outfit, we might find out that Osama bin Laden had deeper links to the CIA than we had previously imagined. Already, US investigative website, Counterpunch is saying American security services had known bin Laden’s location since 2005. Global Post reports that the Pakistani secret service and military were in on the killing but preferred to maintain the fictions of ignorance and incompetence to deflect criticism.
The next snapshot concerns the West’s villain du jour, Muammar Gaddafi. To see how base the propaganda has become we can refer to the statement made by US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to a closed door meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 28 April. Rice said she had read reports that Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi were issued with Viagra for the purposes of engaging in sexual violence. She was not officially accusing them of rape nor did she have any US intelligence on the matter, she was just putting it out there. In Australia we call it dog whistling. I looked but I couldn’t find Ambassador Rice howling about Gaddafi’s forces laying mines in Misrata harbour, a serious charge with plenty of evidence — but perhaps she didn’t want to remind us what the Americans got up to in the 80s.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan authorised the laying of mines in Nicaragua’s harbours on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Even though this was an act of war and a violation of international law, the US added the mines to its bloody campaign to bring down the democratically elected Sandinista government. Dozens of people were killed and injured when their ships struck the mines and exploded. Nicaragua took its case to the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The successful cease and desist resolution in the Security Council was vetoed by the US — even though the ICJ ruled in Nicaragua’s favour. It held that the US had violated international law by mining the harbours and supporting the Contra rebels against the Nicaraguan government. The ICJ awarded reparations which were again blocked by the US.
One of the most appalling cases was US support for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in late 1978. America maintained a pathological opposition to Hanoi after it was humbled by the Vietnamese in 1975. So the US with South East Asian help fed, funded and armed the genocidal Khmer Rouge along the Thai Cambodian border. The US also ensured that the Khmer Rouge maintained the Cambodian seat at the United Nations. It sounds fanciful and mad now to think that America was backing the monster that was Pol Pot — but then it fought alongside bin Laden against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
I could go on and on citing cases where the USA attacked, deposed, overthrew, bombed, killed, mined and slaughtered. At times like this, there seems to be no reflection or acknowledgement — and even less apology. And just week the Washington Post editorialised that the US should use assassination, the bin Laden model, against Muammar Gaddafi. It seems some sectors of American society have learnt nothing at all.
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